Tomorrow at the University of the West Indies’ Regional Headquarters on the Mona, Kingston, campus a Great Debate will take place on the topic: “The Role of Leadership in Responding to Vulnerable Populations.” The debate, to include students of the University of Technology and The Mico University will start at 2:30 p.m. and it is free and open to the public. The debate is organized by UWILeads, a group that works to develop leadership among students, in partnership with the LGBT rights group J-FLAG.
Quality of Citizenship Jamaica (QCJ) is a young non-governmental organization that is making a difference in the lives of one vulnerable and often forgotten community – lesbian, bisexual and women who have sex with women. Here is a recent Q and A I did recently with QCJ’s Executive Director Angeline Jackson:
Petchary: How did QCJ get started?
Angeline: QCJ officially began on January 22, 2013. Jalna (Broderick) and I had been mulling over the idea for a while and one of the major challenges we foresaw was receiving grants from international donors, (yes even before we started we were looking at that). We wanted to have a temporary way to receive funds that donors would be comfortable with. With that thought Jalna and I met with Dane Lewis to discuss the possibility of J-FLAG being our fiscal sponsor until we were registered. Dane agreed and on the same day we made the Facebook page live and officially established ourselves.
QCJ began without funds. Though we thought we had the potential to receive funding, we had decided that our work would never be solely dependent on such external support. However, with the help of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation and AIDS Free World, QCJ became incorporated as a charity in September 2013 and on January 21, 2014, we received approval for non-profit status. We are the first and only registered organisation for lesbian and bisexual women in Jamaica – and as far as we know, within the English-speaking Caribbean.
Petchary: What are your plans for the next few years?
We want to become known by our constituents as an organisation that has their best interest at the forefront of all we do. Our goals are to educate, empower and enlighten lesbian, bisexual and women who have sex with women (LBWSW); to speak from a point of knowledge for the invisible community through factual data; to become the organisation that individuals look to locally, regionally and internationally for data and collaboration on LBWSW issues in Jamaica; and to broaden our scope to meaningfully serve and empower the trans* community.
Of course we would love to have an office space that our constituents can access and where we can provide services. We’d also love to have paid staff!
Petchary: What is your vision? Why do see the need for such an organization at this time?
Angeline: Our vision is to foster the enhancement of healthcare, including mental health, for lesbian, bisexual and women who have sex with other women in Jamaica ; to increase LGBT youth participation in all spheres of youth activity; and to bring awareness to our constituents on matters of health, HIV and human rights.
There is no organisation that aims to identify the needs of lesbian and bisexual women through research. For too long the needs of this community have been neglected – and at worst ignored – on the basis that there is no risk (or very low risk) for HIV. Therefore, the belief was that the community did not need much attention. As lesbians, Jalna and I found these repeated assertions unsatisfactory. As such we took the stance that since no one else was doing it and this was something that was needed, we would step in and get it done. It also helped that we had encouragement from friends.
Petchary: What was the thinking behind the name? Why did you call it QCJ?
Angeline: In July 2012, I attended the World AIDS Conference through the sponsorship of St. Paul’s Foundation. The Foundation had arranged a meeting at the World Bank; there I heard the term “quality of citizenship” from Julie Oyegun. The explanation of this phrase was that every citizen of a country, including LGBT citizens, must have the same “quality of citizenship.” The term stayed with me.
When I got back to Jamaica I shared this idea with other activists. Perhaps my approach was wrong: I argued that the ‘donkey’ of HIV has been whipped so much that we should look at integrating citizenship into our discourse. Not everyone agreed with me, but the concept did arise in other discussions.
The name allows us to say so much, without many words; it is wide-reaching and can encompass so many issues, even under the LGBT umbrella.
Petchary: Are you optimistic about Jamaica and its issues regarding inclusiveness and diversity? How would you like to see Jamaica evolving in 10, 20 years’ time?
Angeline: I want to leave the world a better place than I found it. Activism is the rent I pay for my time on this earth.
Jalna: Growing up I had no one to talk to, no one to help me understand what I was feeling. My goal is to ensure that no one else has to live my experience.
If we weren’t optimistic then there would be no point in working towards something better. I think things will get better, that change will come and that as LGBT Jamaicans we will be afforded the same quality of citizenship as heterosexual Jamaicans.
10 to 20 years is a good amount of time! In 10 years I would love to see a Jamaica free of that old buggery law and with it a real changing attitude among Jamaicans, which includes reduced discrimination of LGBT people, a legal system that protects victims and survivors and has a comprehensive definition of rape and an improved discourse on trans* issues and needs. In 20 years I would love to see LGBT people being able to enjoy all the benefits of being an equal citizen within this country and I would also love to see the full rights of trans* people moving forward.
Petchary: Who inspires you? Do you have role models, international or Jamaican?
Angeline: When I started activism in 2008 I had the opportunity of meeting Yvonne McCalla Sobers and Maurice Tomlinson. Both persons inspired me to aspire to justice for all, for equality. I’ve since worked closely with both and still view them as role models for me in this oftentimes daunting, terrifying and ‘political’ cause. Hilaire Sobers (often referred to as Pa) has been that person who encourages me to do, to move, to get it done! I don’t really have any international role models; however the lives and work of David Kato, Harvey Milk, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi inspire and influence how I work and give me a drive to push on and forward. Because there must be change. As Dr. King Jr says “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Jalna: Angela Jones, one of the founders of Women’s Inc., who used her experience to create a space that could empower Jamaican women, showed me that women did not have to stand in shadows, that we could speak out and do for ourselves. Ian McKnight helped develop my desire to right wrongs and strive to implement change around LGBT issues. They both impacted on the person I am. I admire Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi and all the women suffragettes of the world who strove to empower, educate and inspire women to reach their full potential – women such as Margaret Sanger. However the person I admire the most is Angeline Jackson – a young woman with a fire in her belly to right the wrongs of this country and the world. She came with a drive that inspired me to put my own ideas and dreams into action; and she pushes me daily to make myself a better person.
We both try to not put the people we admire on pedestals. We recognise that they are human with their frailties and are never perfect; and we acknowledge the same within ourselves.
If you would like to support Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, the organization is on Facebook and on Twitter @qcjwomyn. You can also read much more about their achievements and activities in their first year of existence here: http://qcjm.org/yearone/